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HONOR AT CALLAGHAN'S

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"He looked a bit like yourself, but not quite. English. Like you. Heading south on the Shore Road.

"He'd just come 'round the curve up the hill, and he couldn't see, I suppose. You can't see much as you come up and then turn left on the curve before spotting the town down below. A driver is more concerned making sure there's road on the other side of the hill, because even though the ocean looks far and away, it still looks to be just below the hilltop. Not that there's any danger, mind you. There's a wall on the the roadside, but the newcomer don't know it. All the poor chap can see is ocean. Even the curve on top seems to sneak up, giving the impression that all the driver has ahead leads to land's end and the shore below. To the stranger heading south who doesn't know this part of country, there must be a feeling that the sea is all'round, except for the bog side on the right. True, the sea looks far, but, as you noticed when you drove in, the land drops steeply from up there, and any driver is more concerned with where the car puts wheels than with what four-legged creature passes in front of it. Fortunately, no one has ever gone down at that point. But, then, very few drivers pick this side of the bog on the way to Dublin."

The speaker paused and drew a long, leisurely, sip from his mug. The man he was talking to stood quietly at the bar holding a partly-consumed pint of beer. Two other men joined them. The bartender in the meantime seemed to have forgotten his other customers. He leaned over the serving counter, as if ready to hear, or engage in, a long conversation. One elderly man sat by himself at a nearby table, smoking a pipe. A half-full mug of beer in front of him looked as if its contents had long lost their suds. On his head he wore a short-brimmed greyish and brown woolen hat that looked as if it had been around for several years.

"I tell you. We're honorable people here who live by the rules.
You just came into town, and we're glad you stopped for refreshment. Nice to have you, even if you're just passing by. We ain't much against the English, mind you. There's not much harm they can do here. And if there was, we could only pray and wish them the same we wish you. May the Almighty carry you in His wind as you travel. By the Holy Mother, we'd never cheat no one. Not here. We're honorable people. Take Maureen Connelly, for example, good woman that she is. Looking out from her window, she is all day. Ain't much to do here, except look and recognize that when God made time He left it to us. A lot of it. Maureen can look up and down the road and see what goes on. God fearing, she is. Never married. First, because theren't no men around, since most migrate to America, Canada, Australia, and other places. Even bloody England. Can't see what they find in Liverpool, except bad weather. Liverpool women can't be trusted. They sleep with anyone. Maureen, on the other hand, is a God-fearing woman who'd do no wrong. Like the time she stood at her window looking into O'Brien's backyard across the road. Casey's rooster had just jumped his coop and as soon as the bugger got to the O'Brien's, he starts chasing one of the laying hens as if they knew each other. The hen ran, naturally, around and around the coop, with the rooster chasing. Then when she couldn't stand it no longer, she hopped over the pen's wall into the backyard. The back door to O'Brien's was open and the hen ran inside, with the rooster giving chase. Mrs. O'Brien tried to stop'im with a broom, as the hen ran right down the hall out the front door on to the road, as Squire Deneher's car was passing."

The man closed his eyes and paused. His face changed as he struggled to continue.

"Ran right under the Squire's car. Crushed. Incredible. So crushed she was that no one could even make chicken broth with what was left."

There was a pause, as the man prepared for another sip. "Yes, I remember it well." He then said something in Gaelic, which everyone except the lean man he was talking to seemed to have understood. They all nodded approvingly. "Maureen looked at the hen as she got runned over. 'Oh, blessed be Ye!' She said. 'Blessed by Ye that chose to die.'"

The men at the bar looked at their visitor. Then, as if synchronized, they brought their beers to their mouths simultaneously. The bartender looked around to see if any client needed his services. Seeing that no one did, he pushed himself away from the bar, reached for a glass he had placed in the cleaning basin earlier in the afternoon and started to wipe it dry.

"That's how it was," one the men finally said. "And that's how it should be. Casey's rooster didn't know O'Brien's hen. Honor, my friend, something you won't find much of among black protestants."

The others nodded in agreement.

"Mind you," the bartender added. "It ain't to say theren't good ones among'em. But with black protestants you have to be careful. All they like to do is sleep with your sisters. Or ride their cars down from Belfast as if they owned the road."

"Like I was saying," the first man commented regaining the conversation. He had emptied his mug while the others had briefly interrupted him. The bartender refilled it. The man did not object.
"In fact..." He stopped to take sip of the freshly drawn beer. In fact, as I was saying, the car came atop the hill and followed the road. Then, as it was about to negotiate the curve to the left, you know, the one you must have seen before heading down here, there was a crash. Not a metal-on-stone crash, but something that gave a loud thud, as if a solid, flashy object had been hit hard and pushed a few feet away. I then heard the car cough as it came to a stop by the bogside of the road, away from the protective wall. The driver, for no reason, was still blowing the horn. Then out of the car he pops, shaking his fists in the air, and neither he nor his friend seem to care about the poor creature bleeding heavily from the mouth and head.
A beautiful animal it was, although no one could tell by looking at it now, dead as it was. From where I stood, I could see it all, although I still decided to leave the bog and have a closer look, or help move the victim out of the way. Suddenly the bloody English starts cursing me while pointing to the dented car. 'I say,' he shouts, 'somebody has got to pay for this damage.'

"'Squire,' I says, treating him all polite like. 'Be thankful you've still got a car. The poor animal is dead and now it ain't nothing but meat.' But he says to me 'I don't care. Somebody has got to pay for the damages to my vehicle.' By that time I had already approached him and his friend, who just looked and seemed to approve what the bloody English said. 'No, Squire,' I repeats nice and polite, sticking my pitchfork deep into the sod. 'The animal was alive just a few moments ago, and now it ain't no more. You've still got a car that can go. The animal can't go nowhere. Somebody's got to pay for it. Not for the car.'
By that time, Pat McMahon had come along. He had been digging up some peat to dry. Winter was coming any day now, and we all know how cold it gets when one tries to light the hearth with the peat still wet. He had brought his spade along, perhaps considering he'd not be digging again. So now, there were two of us. I pointed at McMahon, who just held on to the spade. 'The animal's dead,' I says. 'Somebody's gotta pay for it. Poor thing.' 'I guess you're right,' McMahon says, still holding the spade. By this time the bloody English are in conference a bit away from us, occasionally looking from McMahon's spade to the pitchfork standing by me. We just waited quiet like. Finally the taller one comes back and says, 'Very well, but we still don't feel it was our fault. How much will it take to settle?'"

The group had been joined by the elderly man who was now carrying his mug of obviously warm beer. He was still smoking his pipe, although he gave no impression that he was either inhaling, or exhaling, the smoke.

"So I says to the Englishman. 'I guess fifty quid will do.'

"'Fifty?' Says he with an angry look, his nose almost turning upwards with contempt as if I'd runned over the poor beast.

"'Fifty,' I said straight like, not being intimidated, but still polite. McMahon nodded in agreement, changing his spade from one hand to the other. The bloody English then reached for his wallet and took out forty pounds. I thought he was to offer'em in the hope I'd settle. But, no. He then looks to his friend, who handed him the missing ten.

"He gave me the money and walked to the dented car. He got in first and waved for the friend to follow. I then heard the motor cough and cough and suddenly sputter, sputter, and sputter as it turned and the sound became somewhat like an agitated cat's purr. Like when she's saying to her tom, 'that's it, boy, now you got me right.'
The car then moved away, downhill towards town, past Maureen's house.
She was still at the window, where she'd been when the chicken got runned over. It continued past Callaghan's, where we are right now, and became smaller and smaller as it rounded the curve uphill before it disappeared.

"I am an honorable man, my friend. You bloody English may not think it, but I am. I make my confession regularly. I'd go straight to Hell if I hadn't told Father Flaherty that to this day I still don't know who owned the animal.

"God bless its soul."

A quiet enveloped the pub as the men at the bar gently raised their mugs to their mouths. The bartender stopped cleaning and put away the towel after passing it once over the counter, wiping a spot that only he had noticed.

Manuel L. Ponte
St. Louis, Missouri.
April 6, 1990
 
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